Monday, February 13, 2017

1 Timothy 6:1-2 : “Relationships between Employers and Employees”

A good relationship with God and people is  inherent  to the teaching of the Bible. It is  at the heart of the 10 commandments  and  it is reaffirmed by Jesus in Mark 12:30,31: “Love God … love your neighbour…”.  

In chapters 5:1-6:2   of   Paul’s letter to Timothy he  deals  with relationships  at  different levels. 

In  5:1-2  Paul  tells  Timothy how to relate, as a pastor  to older men, younger men , older women and younger women in the church.

In  5:3-16  Paul helps Timothy  in terms of relating  to widows and vulnerable people in the church.

In 5: 17-25  Paul  explains  how  we ought to relate to  the  elders of the church, particularly in the matter of the church’s material support of them, and  in the matter of  dealing with accusations  against  the elders. 

 In  6:1-2  Paul  deals with the matter of the relationship  of slaves  towards  their  masters. Further instructions on this matter are found in Ephesians  6:5-9 (Timothy’s congregation)  and Colossians  3:22-4:1 where directives  are not only given to  slaves  but also to their masters.  The  letter to Philemon in particular  is about a slave called Onesimus who  had stolen from his master Philemon, and who had fled. Onesimus had become a Christian  though Paul’s ministry in Rome, and Paul, in this letter   appealed  to Philemon to take him back  as a brother in the Lord.

I am taking the liberty to apply the slave – master  relationship to the employer – employee relationship.  The   biblical principles  governing the relationships,  be they slave – master or employee- employer  are  similar.  But there is a vital difference. An employee  enters into  a voluntary  agreement  with an employer to work for them  for a certain mutually agreed upon wage. A slave is a person who is the property of, and wholly subject to, another person.  John Stott points out that slaves have three defining characteristics: “Their person is another’s property, so that they may be bought and sold; their will is subject to another’s authority; and their labour is obtained by another’s coercion” [1].   They are “under the yoke of slavery.”

Paul is giving directives  to Christian slaves regarding their attitude toward their masters, whether they  be  non-Christian  or   Christian  masters.  It  is estimated that  at the height of  the Roman practise of slavery as much as a  third of the Roman Empire were slaves. So we are not surprised  that the gospel came to slave and free [Gal. 3: 28], since the gospel of Jesus was never  limited to  any class of people, but that it was always intended for the whole world. And  so it was inevitable that Paul should write  directives  to Christians who were slaves, remembering  the specific challenges associated  with the  life of a slave.   

Slavery is still  very much in practise  in this modern world. [2] Modern slavery is a multi-billion-dollar industry with estimates of up to U$35 billion generated annually. The United Nations estimates that roughly 27 to 30 million individuals are currently caught in the slave trade industry. India has the most slaves of any country, at roughly 18.4 million. China is second with 3.4 million slaves, followed by Pakistan (2.1 million), Bangladesh (1.5 million), and Uzbekistan (1.2 million). By percentages of the population living in slavery Uzbekistan tops with 4% of its population living under slavery followed by Cambodia (1.6%), India, (1.4%) and Qatar (1.4%). Mauritania was the last nation in the world to officially abolish slavery, doing so in 2007.

Modern slavery is frequently a by-product of poverty. Countries that lack education, economic freedom, the rule of law, and which have poor societal  structures tend to encourage and propagate slavery. In Namibia slavery is forbidden by our constitution. Chapter three, article 9  on  “Slavery and Forced Labour“,  point # 1  says: “No persons shall be held in slavery or servitude.” Point #2  says, ”No persons shall be required to perform forced labour”.

So, the   matter  that  calls for comment  is the  fact that Paul says nothing here to condemn slavery. In fact   Paul calls on Christians who are “under a yoke as slaves to regard their masters as worthy of all honour.”  Were you expecting Paul to be a  William Wilberforce, leading a campaign for the liberation of slaves?  Why did Jesus, or the apostles, or the early church do nothing to abolish slavery? How do we explain this, since Paul freely acknowledges that slaves are under a yoke?
The simplest  answer would be that the institution of slavery was woven into every part of the ancient world. Dismantling slavery  spontaneously would have brought about the instant collapse of society, resulting in chaos.  So, there is nothing  said about that at all, and  instead he gives Christian slaves  an instruction to submit to their masters.

Here we learn once again that the gospel  marches to a different drum. It employs a different strategy. The gospel is not indifferent to the plight  of  slaves, but it solves the problem  in a different way. The gospel always  begins by dealing with primary causes. The physical liberation of  slaves  is not  the first priority  for  the gospel.  The first  priority  of the gospel  is  the liberation from the slavery of sin. When Jesus was  reading from Isaiah 61 in the synagogue, he   read , “He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives…”  [Lk 4:18].  The context is very clear that  He was talking about the slavery of sin, from which every  social evil flows , including the   slavery  of which our text speaks.

Furthermore,   we need to be assured  that  Paul did  encourage slaves to seek their  freedom  if they could attain it. Paul makes it clear that if a Christian who is a slave has an opportunity to become free, he ought to take it [1 Cor. 7:21,22]. In his letter to Philemon,  he encourages   him to receive Onesimus, his runaway slave  “no longer as a bondservant, but more than a bondservant, a beloved brother.”  I understand this to mean that Onesimus was  going back to work  for  Philemon, who would  care for him physically  and  treat him as a brother in the Lord.  

But mark this! Slavery, along with a host of other  forms  that  demean human beings   is an institution that arises  from of a fallen world. People were never designed by God for slavery. But there it is!  Many people are poor and literally sell themselves into slavery. Others are sold into slavery by their parents because of poverty. Poverty is another result of life in a fallen world. Jesus said, ”the poor you will always have with you” [Mk. 14:7]. And poverty lends itself to exploitation, and it needs to be regulated. And so, in   Exodus 20-21, in giving  the civil law to Israel, God also gives laws on slavery , not because He designed it so,  but to regulate  such practises in a fallen world, reminding masters  to treat their slaves well. [Ex. 21:1] The law is designed to  regulate  life in a fallen world. It  regulates  slavery. It regulates   divorce [Deut. 24:1-4]. And yet the Bible condones neither.  The civil law  simply mitigates and  constrains.  But it  does   not  condone  issues such as slavery. I repeat, people were not originally created  to be slaves.  We were created for freedom under God!

And  so  Paul says  to Christian slaves (who are  under the yoke of slavery)  that they should  honour their masters.  The explanation is given in v.1 : “Let all who are under the yoke as bondservants regard their own masters as worthy of all honour  (and here is the reason)  so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled.” Paul gives an evangelistic reason.  He  tells the Christian slave that even in his less than  ideal  position,  his behaviour  to his master  has  a bearing on  God's reputation.  God’s  Word is at  stake. The truth  of the gospel is at stake.   This is remarkable.  The glory of God in the eyes of a master  is at stake in the behaviour of a slave  who professes Christ!

So, how does this  all apply to us? None of us are slaves, at least not in the way that these people were slaves and yet the principles  apply to  us, especially as we consider this in the light of our  working relationships as employers and employees. 

1.      Principle #1 :  As employees  in the service of our employers  we are called to  ensure  that in so doing we honour  God and the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. This  means that  we  honour the Name of God by  fulfilling the highest standards in our employment.  Nowhere is this more true than when we work for a non- Christian boss.   Even those that are not nice to us!  The apostle Peter makes that point: “Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh” (I Pet.2:18).We are to bear witness to the gospel of Christ in the way that we live. The way that we live either commends the gospel, or it undermines the gospel. Let that be an abiding lesson to all of us! The greatest barriers of  our gospel witness  in  our community  and in  our working environment are our lives. Our lives will either commend the truth or undermine it.

2.    Principle #2 :   If we have the privilege of  working for a Christian boss, we are  not to abuse  them on the ground that  they are our brothers.  Paul is saying to these Christian slaves that they ought to serve there masters  even more diligently,  and better, precisely because they  are  fellow believers.  Our equality in Christ can be no  excuse for  poor service.

3.   Principle #3 is not found in our text, but  as indicated already, we find it in Ephesians 6 and Colossians 3. I am adding it here because I wanted to add a word for masters or employers.

(i)             The first point here is that “enslaving” people is wrong (see 1 Timothy 1:10). And even though slavery  is a societal fact  Paul  encouraged a  believing  slave-owner named Philemon to give Onesimus, his slave, his freedom on the basis  that he is a brother in  the Lord. Once you have  spiritual freedom  through the gospel, social freedom should follow very quickly.   In business terms that means that  we need  to  treat employees with fairness and respect. It means paying them a fair wage  so that they can live in dignity.
(ii)            In Colossians 4:1  Paul  exhorts the slave-owners in Colossae to  treat  their   slaves  justly and fairly, knowing that they too where accountable to their Master in heaven.  Both, the  Christian employer and employee ultimately  have one Master  to whom they must give an account.   In his letter to the Ephesians Paul tells the slave-owners in the Ephesian church,  to stop their threatening, reminding  them that  God, their common Master shows no partiality  when  it comes to judging actions (Eph.  6:9)  

How are you acting towards those who are over you or under you? Has the gospel  taken hold of you in such a manner that  it affects those who are over or under you? You cannot possibly act in the way that  Paul is describing here unless you have a new heart and a new nature. Unless the Holy Spirit indwells you are not likely to have such inclinations. 

Since we came to know Christ, He has often put his finger on wrongs we have done to other people, particularly as we  begin to understand  the  fact that the Lord Christ bore our sins on the cross and grants us total forgiveness. So the  great rule for life, in whatever station we may  find ourselves in this life  is this:   The gospel, Jesus,   FIRST. Everything follows from that. 

William Wilberforce (1755 -1833 )  who led the  abolishment of slavery in England in the 18th/  19th century  could do what he did  only because of the  powerful gospel  preaching, the Great Awakening, that  happened in the pulpits of Britain at that time! The gospel is the  true  basis for our freedom, and for that we continually  labour here at Eastside! 

[1] John Stott, “The Message of I Timothy and Titus,” IVP, 1996, p.142

Thursday, February 9, 2017

1 Timothy 5:3-16 :“Managing Relationships in the Church - Widows and vulnerable people”

Today we have  an excellent  opportunity  to  take a closer look at  the diaconal  ministry  of the church.  In Paul’s first  letter to Timothy  he has written to him, among many other things,  concerning two offices in the church -  the eldership and diaconal ministry.  In Chapter 3: 1-13 he outlines the essential qualifications for elder and diaconal leadership. Both offices are essential to good church governance. We see the outworking of this  in Acts  6:1-7  in terms of the  synergy  between the apostles (prototype elders)   and the  7 men full of the Spirt and wisdom (prototype deacons),  chosen  to solve  a matter that was threatening the peace and harmony and therefore the testimony of the early church. 

The eldership is entrusted with the   human leadership of the church under the Lordship of Christ, and under directive of the Word of God, and the diaconal ministry exists to make the gospel that the elders preach look good by showing the love of Jesus in tangible ways. The diaconal ministry like the ministry of the elders   is a beautiful and rewarding ministry. To see people helped and restored through the truth and grace given by our Triune God is a glorious thing to behold!

In our passage we now have an opportunity to discover diaconal ministry in action. We have here a case study of vulnerable people in the church – widows. Note, the principle can be applied to all types of vulnerable people in the church.  In this case it is the widow. If a woman loses her husband, who is given to her by God as a protector, she becomes vulnerable.  This is true today and in biblical times this was especially so, and therefore much is said in the Bible about the protection about vulnerable people. Strangers or foreigners , orphans  and widows were  classified  as vulnerable.  God has a heart for the vulnerable. James has a specific word on this matter: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction…” [James 1:27].  In Psalm  68:5 God is called  “the Father of the fatherless and  protector of widows”.[1]This is what  made the  early church act like she did  in Acts 6:1-7.  God measures  the spiritual temperature of a society and of the church by the way they  care for the vulnerable.  It all flows out of the law of God  which  in summary says: ”You shall love the Lord your God…. You shall love your neighbour”. [2]

Our passage  is  most extensive treatment of the subject in the Bible concerning the care of the vulnerable. Two great subjects  emerge here: the issue of  church and community support for widows and at the same time, the widow is encouraged to  take responsibility  and  to make positive contributions to the church's ministry.

Diaconal Team Leader : Douglas Reissner 

1.      Honour widows  who are truly widows: The opening line  (v.3) introduces  the controlling  thought of  our  passage. The church must honour (Gr.  timaō  lit. to revere, value)  those widows who are  (Gr.ontōs) – lit. alone, desolate.  But how do we know which  widow  is eligible  for  church support?

2.      Evaluate their needs (vv. 4-8). The church is not called to provide support to widows indiscriminately. Therefore some guidelines are provided.   This is the kind of wisdom that  a diaconal ministry needs.  Before we continue this thought we need to remember that the OT considered re-marriage as the ideal for a widow. Where re-marriage was not possible, a widow could stay either in the house of her parents (Gen. 38:11) or that of her in-laws (Ruth 1:16). In our modern society it is good that a husband should make adequate provision (housing, pension fund, life policy) for such an eventuality. But the fact of the matter is that life is not always tidy. A young woman loses her husband to a heart attack or in  a   car accident. She is left with three children and very little means. What now?  The first principle  is this: Honour widows  i.e. don’t neglect them; don’t disrespect them by ignoring their plight.  Cry out to God for them; stand with them; love them, support them emotionally, physically and spiritually, and let the church help  them however it can. Here is how help  ought to be sought: This is biblical wisdom

(i)           Widows with families  (v.4)  ought  to be taken care of by their family members.. It is a matter of godly virtue  and  v.8 makes it clear that  neglecting  the needs  of such  a vulnerable  person is tantamount to denying the faith … in fact it is worse than being an unbeliever.  The logic is rooted in obedience to the fifth commandment: "Honor your father and your mother" (Ex.20:12; Eph. 6:2). Parents   spend their lives working for the welfare of their children. When it comes to such a time  at which  a parent  becomes vulnerable it would be a sin  for their children and grandchildren  to  neglect  them. 

(ii)         Widows without families (5:5, 9-10); These are distinguished from widows having support or financial means – they are truly widows. They are all alone. But this is not the only criterion. The character of this kind of widow is  also considered in vv. 9-10.   So, in this passage  we find an extended discussion on what  a ’real’ widow is and what  kind of widows should be supported and not supported. The  church  (or presumably  the deacons on behalf of  the church)   are called  to  examine the  practical circumstances  in which  the  widow  or the vulnerable person finds  herself.   If she is all alone, without any means of support  (i.e. no husband  and no extended family),  at least sixty years of age (v. 9), the culturally recognized age of retirement, as well as  at  an age at which remarriage was unlikely[3], and  if she  is  a woman who has a  reputation of good works in the church and in the community, a faithful  ‘one husband  woman’,  faithful mother, hospitable, caring for the church and  the afflicted in her life   she would be eligible for church support.  The standard for bona fide church support  is incredible high, you may think, and yet this is an exposition of the  life of a normal Christian woman of God.

We see that  practical need alone was insufficient grounds for receiving financial help from the church. The church,  having many  financial responsibilities could subsidize only the activities of widows with exemplary lives of faith.  But more than that the widow was also one that did not  simply hope  in the support that  the church would give. Her supreme hope was ultimately in God (v.5).  She knows that ultimately He is  her Provider. Clearly, the widow eligible for financial support was the one who manifested godliness  in every part of her life. Therefore, to qualify for church support the widow had to be truly all alone, she needed to have  demonstrated  a life of  God centered service and she  needed to display   a hope that was continually  fixed on God, with prayer and supplications.

(iii)             Widows that do  not qualify  for support. In v.6   mention is made of the widow who is self- indulgent. That  thought may be connected  with the younger widows of vv.  11-15, and provides  a graphic contrast to the widow described in v.5.   The bottom line, says Paul is that there are  some widows who show no  trust, devotion, love or faithfulness to God. She lives for her pleasures. She is dead in her sins, meaning that she is unconverted. The church is not  under any obligation to support her. Now we need to understand that this is  generalization. Not every young widow would be indulgent. Paul was clearly observing a general trend in  society,    a  pattern of behaviour among young widows,  and he wants to avoid that undue pressure is exerted on the church’s limited resources. And so the general advice and rule was  that young widows were not to be considered for enrolment  on the list  of widows supported by the church (v. 11).  The general advice given  was that young widows should remarry. They should not be placed on a widows list, by which the church became responsible for their support. Once it is granted, it is very difficult to undo the support of a vulnerable person.   Vv.11-15  makes some critical observations in this regard. Younger widows would be more subject to  strong physical desires that would draw them away from Christ. Their  strong  desire to remarry in v. 11  could lead them  to marry unbelievers who would inevitably draw their hearts away from Christ. Many people get into a bad relationship because they think that they  desperately need a relationship. It’s a common occurrence that Paul warns against.                              
           A second reason not to include young widows on the list  appeared  to be the tendency to become idle, to flit from house to house and, worse yet, to become gossips and busybodies, saying things that are inappropriate (v. 13). It may mean that young widows, their financial burden lifted, lacking the spiritual maturity to apply themselves to prayer and other tasks of ministry associated with the list, became lazy and even counterproductive. V.15 indicates this to be true: “some have  already strayed after  Satan”. Some have already departed from the faith (see 4:1f)   

What Paul has just laid down as reasons for excluding young widows from church support now leads to the logical conclusion: They should marry. Obviously they should only remarry in the Lord  (see 1 Corinthians  7:39). 


This passage helps us to understand  the responsibilities and manner of working  of diaconal ministry  as an arm of the church’s ministry :
1.      To ensure  that real  need is addressed.
2.      To ensure that  people  are really helped. Most help is short term. The work of the diaconate is to  prayerfully seek solutions in which  the person  in question is helped to cope on their own. Dependency is never encouraged as a rule in the Bible.
3.   The only time the Bible envisages an ongoing   support structure is when the person in question is aged  and unable  to  look after themselves financially. Even then  the criteria for supporting such a person are  that  she  must  reflect a consistently godly demeanour, in which she is able to demonstrate that she has lived a life of godly virtue, and  that  she continues even now to hope in God and help the church by her prayerful demeanour.         
4.      This passage  clears the church’s ministry from  a sense of false guilt. Any pastor can give you many stories about strangers who call the church and ask for some kind of assistance – and any pastor can tell you how hard it is to deal with such situations with love, but without getting ripped off. The principles revealed here are extremely relevant today, when many look to the church as a place where the poor and needy should be able to come for financial help.  Let us pray  for our diaconate, and let us thank God for this ministry of good works  that makes the gospel look good! Amen  

[1] See also  Ex 22:22-23; Deut.  27:19; Isa 1:17 ; Jer.  22:3-4
[2] Ex 20:1-21 ;Mark 12:28-31
[3] Presumably, at this age the temptations that faced the younger widow (vv. 11-15) would have ceased to be a serious concern.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Hebrews 13:7-13 "On the Occasion of the Induction of our new Vocational Pastor: Frans Brits"

Our new vocational  pastor : Frans  Brits 
Dear congregation,
We are met together in the Name of God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ, the Head of the church,  and the Holy Spirit to induct  Frans Brits  into the vocational ministry of the Eastside Baptist Church, which is  a part of the body of Christ here on earth. God’s design  for the church  is  that she,  under the  leadership of the Lord Jesus Christ her Great Shepherd, should be led by  under-shepherds, alternatively called pastors, elders or overseers.     

The calling  to be a  pastor is both of God and the church, and in that order.  The inward call from God  comes first to the individual by the Holy Spirit, and  thereafter  the call is confirmed by the church as she recognizes the gifts  and calling.  Abraham,  Moses, Jacob, Joseph, Samuel  David  etc. were all called by God  and they were recognized  as such in Israel. The 12 disciples  were personally called by Jesus to be apostles, and the apostle  Paul was personally  called to the apostolic  ministry  at a later time (Acts 9)  and by and by the church recognized that calling with the help of a kind brother called Barnabas.(Acts 9:27-30). 

God gives  leadership gifts  to the church (Eph. 4:11). We believe that Frans Brits  has been called of God  to the pastoral ministry. He has previously  testified to the inward call from God  to this service. Prior to his ordination as an elder in 2014, He  went  through a two year internship period as an apprentice elder. Following this,  God  has opened up a door for  him by granting his family permanent residence in our country! Now he was free to pursue  the  work and burden that has been laid upon him  by the Lord. Whilst he was working as an acoustic technician, it was consistently clear to his employers that this would be a temporary  arrangement.   Frans Brits  was trained as  a theologian at the University of Pretoria. Now  he is being trained  in the work of a pastor  in the context of the local church. Somebody  once asked an old pastor: “How long does it take to train a pastor?” He said, “A life-time”

Frans has a good working knowledge of Scripture, and as an ordained elder  he has consistently shown a heart hunger  and thirst  after  God. He has  thus been  duly examined  over a sustained period.  In  October 2016  you, the church,  were  asked to confirm  his  calling to the vocational or  fulltime  pastoral ministry of our church.  Having done  all this we are now ready to present  him to you once again  for  that  purpose.   

Since he has been previously ordained as an elder in 2014, we  shall not  go through  the set  procedure of elder ordination  again.  Today we shall simply confirm that, which  we have  said already in 2014 when  the other elders had  laid their  hands  on him on your behalf.  
We have  two duties this morning :

(i)       To instruct  and remind the church  concerning how  we ought to  relate  to our new pastor,accepting  him  and his ministry with  all our heart. In this we are called to pray for ourselves as we take on this responsibility to support him  and his family in prayer and  materially, and  in  helping him to  do  the work of a pastor, by  adding our spiritual gifts to his pastoral   leadership gift.  
(ii)         To  instruct and remind   our new vocational  pastor   concerning  the    biblical  mandate,  as required by  God of being a faithful shepherd  to our souls. To that end we will ask him two questions, which he will   have to respond to.

With all that in mind  we would  like to consider these words from Hebrews  13:7-17  as  we think of our  responsibilities  to our  pastor, and  his corresponding  responsibility to us:
7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 9 Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. 15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. 17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

1.   Our duty  to  Pastor Brits 

Since this text relates  primarily to  the  congregation that receives the ministry from  their pastor, we shall start there:

(i)       Remember that he is one of your leaders,  called and appointed  by Christ.
(ii)      Consider  that  if he is  truly called of God, and if  his life is  an example to  you, then  consider him as a mentor -  imitate  him.
(iii)    Remember that one of his  duties is to speak the Word of God to you. Listen to him, and weigh his words carefully,   when he  speaks God’s Word to you.   In obeying him you obey Christ. At the heart of this passage, and sandwiched between verses 7 and 17 is a reminder  of the centrality of Christ. The primary  ministry responsibility that your pastor has is to  preach  the Word of the  unchanging  Christ (v.8) to you. In this world you will always be tempted by  strange and diverse teachings. You will always be  tempted to let your hearts not be strengthened by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, but by  thinking that you can inherit  the kingdom of God  by a system of works and  a system of self –righteousness, thinking that you are a Christian by what you do and don’t do, rather than  living your life completely by  an obedient faith and trust in the Lord Jesus alone . A true shepherd will always lead you to Jesus!
(iv)     Remember that he is  appointed by God to watch over your souls. He must give an account to God  for your soul. Help him to be a faithful shepherd. Allow him to speak to you in the Name of Jesus.
(v)      Don’t make life difficult  for him. His  calling will  bring enough challenges. You will gain nothing from  an elder whom you  always resist. “…Be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” [1 Peter 5:5]  If you disagree with him, and  if you believe  that he is wrong,  act in the spirit of  Matthew 18:15ff.  

2.    Pastor Brits’ corresponding  duty to us

This same passage, although it speaks directly to church members  about their relationship with their pastor, also implies the pastor’s corresponding duties to his flock.

(i)           He must lead  us  after  the example of our Great Shepherd, the Lord Jesus  Christ.

(ii)         His life must be of such a nature that we want to  imitate him, even as he imitates Christ. It is not sinful to imitate someone, provided that  this person  himself or herself imitates  Christ. [1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1; Phil.3:17; 1 Thess. 1:6]. I thank God for the  faithful pastors, Don Watson and Peter Radmanovich that took hold of me in my  early Christian pilgrimage  at the Walvis Bay Baptist church. They  showed me the love of  Jesus, and I gladly submitted to  them and followed them  at that time. 

(iii)       He must  be a true and faithful messenger of  the Word of God to us. One of his chief duties is to   speak the Word of God to us [13:7].  This means that he must  possess the Word of God in his own heart. In this regard,listen  to Martin Luther’s advice to preachers:
"At night always carry in your heart something from Holy Scriptures to bed with you, meditate upon it like a ruminant animal, and go softly to sleep; but this must not be too much, rather a little that may be well pondered and understood, that you may find a remnant of it in your mind when you rise in the morning. And in all study of the Holy Scriptures one must always despair of one's own ability and labors but only pray God with fear and humility for understanding. Therefore, when you approach the Bible,
 a. You must lift up your eyes and heart to Christ in heaven and in a brief supplication implore his grace;
 b. You must do this often during your reading in order that you may think and say: Lord, grant that I may rightly understand this, but even more that I may perform it.
 c. You must, above all things, guard against desiring to study the Scriptures only in order to know and understand them …for I believe that you are not such stupid scholars as to seek honor, gain, or glory thereby, nor even to be able to teach others.
d. You must seek absolutely nothing but the glory of God, in such spirit that your one thought is: Behold, dearest Lord Jesus, if this study be not to thy glory, let me not understand a syllable of it; but grant unto me, a poor sinner, as much as in thy sight shall be to thy glory."

As one reflects upon what Luther says, we can only conclude, it is no wonder that God  used men like that.

(iv)        He  must be a shepherd of our souls.  He must remember  the words of Peter in the Bible: “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but  being an example to the flock” [2 Pet. 5:2,3].  Pastor, love your congregation with the love of Jesus, not only in word, but in deed.  That love is not soppy- sentimental, but in the spirit  of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.

(v)          He must lead us in such a way  that we  will easily submit to his leadership. He must lead us  by his  joy,  which he derives from his relationship  with the Lord  Jesus.  His ministry  must not be characterized  by groaning. That  would be of no advantage to us.

The presiding elder  shall then say to the  elder candidate :

Forasmuch as  we believe  that you are acting in obedience to the call of God, it may seem  needless my brother, to ask for any further assurance of your faith  and sincerity of purpose, but in order that you  may yourself better realize the solemn  trust you have undertaken, and that this congregation may better understand your mind and will, we ask you now to answer the questions which in the Name of Christ  and His church, we address  to you:

1.     Do you believe in one God – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and do you confess anew Jesus Christ as your Saviour and Lord?
Answer:  I do!
2.     Do you promise to execute your charge with all faithfulness; to preach and teach the word of God from the Holy Scriptures; to lead the congregation in worship and to administer the ordinances; to tend the flock of  Christ and to do the work of an evangelist ?
Answer:  This I will endeavor to do, the Lord being my helper.

The presiding  elder shall then say to the congregation  :

Do you, the members of this church acknowledge and receive Frans Brits  as a pastor  of this church, promising him all  due honour and support in the Lord?  

Will  you  please signify this by standing ?

Prayer of induction  with all  the other elders laying on  their hands.

Induction formula

Frans Brits,  as you have  been called  by the Holy Spirit to this ministry, and as the Holy Spirit  has  spoken to us  and has said: “Set him apart  for the ministry  to which I have called him “ (Acts 13:2)

I declare you now  to be duly inducted and appointed as a pastor   of this church.

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face towards you and give you peace. Amen.” (Numbers 6:24

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Great Promises from the Prophecy of Jeremiah #4 : Jeremiah 33:3 “Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.”

This is yet another  well loved, oft quoted  verse, and a great promise  from the prophecy of Jeremiah,  to guide our thoughts  into  the coming year.  
With this text I am bringing our January meditations  from  Jeremiah  to an end. 

The scope of this chapter is very much in keeping with the preceding chapters which we have already considered.  Israel is destined to go to exile in Babylon, and Jerusalem will fall into the hands of the Babylonians. The land will be restored to the Jews in about 70 years. The relevance of this text for us today  is that,  like Jeremiah,   faithful people of God in an age  that is  so  filled with spiritual deception  and  spiritual devastation, may  suffer the  results of living in a society  that has abandoned the true God and   which in turn has been handed over to its own desires.  Our country  seeks solutions  in every sphere  but God’s solutions.  We, like Jeremiah need to persevere in clinging to God against all the odds, and we need to  continue to be committed to hear the Word of the Lord as Jeremiah did.  We need  to  know that there will  come a time, when we shall inherit the kingdom of God in all its glory, when Jesus  comes again. The heavenly Jerusalem will be our city, and the dwelling place of God will be with man. He will dwell with us, and we will be His people, and God Himself will be our God. He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away [Rev. 21:3,4].

The particular promises  of chapter 33  are  that 
(i) the city shall be rebuilt and re-established. Health and prosperity  and security will be restored (vv. 1-8
(ii)  God will be glorified  as His people  rejoice in Him and praise His name  (vv. 9-14). 
(iii)  An announcement is made that  a righteous Branch (a Messianic term)  will rule, in keeping with  God’s promise made to David. Jesus is the Son of David. He is the   Mediator of the New Covenant  by which  we are  kept securely,   forever and ever (vv.  15-26).   Thus we see that chapter 33   goes far beyond the restoration of  the Jewish kingdom. 

Our focus  will  be  on the  first three verses  of this chapter, containing a very great promise  in 33:1: “The Word of the Lord came to Jeremiah a second time, while he  was still shut up in the court of the guard.”  

We have read of Jeremiah’s imprisonment before in  32:2.  A Word of hope  comes to  Jeremiah and  thus to the nation of Israel  in the midst of her darkest of political times, as the Babylonians are preparing siege ramps to  sack  Jerusalem.  The Word of hope comes as Jeremiah is kept under guard   and imprisoned by king Zedekiah, who still believes that Jeremiah the prophet is undermining his kingly authority, believing the word of the false prophets more than the word of the true prophet. The Word of the Lord comes as a word of hope in the most hopeless of times. No imprisonment can deprive God’s people of His presence. No locks or chains can keep God from visiting and speaking to His people in prison. In fact, God has,   on numerous times visited His people in prison in an extra ordinary way. 
Think of Joseph in an Egyptian prison. Genesis 39:21 says: “But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison.”  
Think of Daniel in the lion’s den. The Bible says: “No harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.” [Dan. 6:23]. 
Paul and Silas were in prison, “having had  many blows inflicted upon them”,  and yet they were able  to pray and sing hymns to God in the night  [Acts 16:23-25]. The presence of God was clearly with them.  
Some of Paul’s   epistles were written from prison[1], and these letters provide us today with so much comfort and encouragement.    

God has used the lives and words of His  suffering people  in  very great ways.  The letters of Samuel Rutherford [c. 1600 – 29 March 1661] are currently on our bedside table. Rutherford was a Scottish Presbyterian pastor, theologian and author.  In his  first years as a pastor in his parish church  at Anwoth in Scotland, he experienced  great sadness. His wife was ill for a year and a month, before she died in their new home. Two of his children also died during this period.  Samuel Rutherford was a faithful pastor. He was always praying, always preaching, always visiting the sick, always teaching his people, always writing and studying. He preached  a God centred doctrine and  He insisted that  Christian profession should be matched by  godly living. Because of this he was  banished by the authorities  from his church at Anwoth to Aberdeen. At this  time  God used him, particularly in terms of  his pastoral  letters  which he sent to his  church members, particularly  those that were suffering in his parish. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, that great Baptist preacher  described Rutherford's letters  “the nearest thing to inspiration which can be found in all the writings of mere men”. [2] 

In preparing this sermon,  I  read  a sermon  of  Spurgeon on Jeremiah 33:3[3], entitled “The Golden Chain of Prayer”  and I   saw  that he quoted  Rutherford.  He said :
"Rutherford had a  quaint saying that when he was cast into the cellars of affliction, he remembered that the great king always kept his wine there, and he began to seek at once for the wine bottles, and to drink of the “wines on the lees well refined.”  What Rutherford wasn’t saying that his  adverse circumstances  were  an opportunity to get drunk! What he was saying is,   that even in the  darkest times  God has an encouragement  for you in the dark cellars of life.  When God is at the end  of your story, it matters very little what men may do to you.  

Many years ago I read the  biography of  John Paton (1824-1907), another Scotsman  who became  a missionary  to what was once known as the “New  Hebrides”, named after a chain of Scottish Islands. This  group of islands  is found in the  South Pacific Ocean, and it  is now  the nation of Vanuatu. John G. Paton  arrived there  in 1858.  His  decision to go there  was subject to severe criticism  by a respected elder of the church. The elder, Mr. Dickson said,  "You will be eaten by cannibals!"  John Paton responded,  “Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in  years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honouring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my Resurrection body will rise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen redeemer”.  The knowledge  of the presence of God in our trials  is our greatest comfort, and again  we  say, that it matters very little  where we are, as long as God  is with us. 

And so, the  Word of the Lord came to Jeremiah while he was imprisoned, and it came a second time to Jeremiah, as a re-assurance.
33:2  “Thus  says the  LORD who  made the earth, the LORD who  formed it   to establish it – the LORD is his name…”.  The  One who gives this promise and the One that  invites us to call  to Him  is no one less  than  the Lord of Heaven and Earth.  This is an important  assurance in the midst of  chaos and confusion, when our world  lies upside down  and  when truth lies slain in the streets, and when the true  church, the  city of God on earth is hardly visible in the community, because her members are  dispersed  and exiled….  This is an assurance by His own Word,  that God has not forgotten  the people of His covenant, the  true children of Abraham,  comprised of  both, the Jews and the  Gentiles. The firmness  and the  certainty of God’s covenant   is expressed in  33: 19-26, and again, it comes in  in two separate   statements, emphasising and re-emphasising the covenantal faithfulness of God. 

33:3  Now,  all  this  forms the basis  of this great invitation  for prayer : “Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.” Now you may remember  that  Jeremiah  has been found praying   concerning  this in 32:16-25.  And now he must call upon God again!  I remind you that  prayer is an ongoing work.  We have prayed for our own city and its people many times,  and  we  must continue to pray for her.    We  must pray again and again. That is the meaning of Luke 11:1-13  and Luke 18: 1-8,  Jesus’s teaching about prayer and perseverance in prayer.  God has promised a certain restoration  of all things,  and we must always pray “Your kingdom come”, but until that happens  we must  also pray for our daily bread (physical needs), we must continue  to pray for  the forgiveness of our sins even  as we forgive  others, and we must pray  continually that we may not be led into temptation.    The people  of Israel  thought that they had the kingdom for good, but they forgot that  they needed  to maintain  its purity and devotion to God. But they forgot their God and  went in search of other schemes, and now look  where it got them!  Oh how merciful and gracious God is to them  and to us, despite their  and our hardheartedness. He invites us by His Word: “Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.”

1.       Call to me
In the midst of your life, with all its complexities and uncertainties  in the face of political  and economic instability, and in the midst of  poor commitments to  Christ  and  His Word, and therefore poor commitments to  His church, God still says “Call to me”.  This is at the heart of our prayer week. Prayer week is not  simply there  to  give you an opportunity to pray one hour per night for 5 days and then to be  done for the year . Prayer week is meant to stimulate you to see the value of calling persistently upon the  God who sees and hears, and who commands us to pray without ceasing!   

2.                   I will answer you: God promises Jeremiah that persistent prayer  will  find an answer.  My  own experience concurs with Spurgeon:  “ If there is anything I know, anything that I am quite assured of beyond all question, it is that praying breath is never spent in vain. If no other man here can say it, I dare to say it, and I know that I can prove it. My own conversion is the result of prayer—long, affectionate, earnest, persistent. Parents prayed for me; God heard their cries, and here I am to preach the gospel. Since then, I have adventured upon some things that were far beyond my capacity, as I thought; but I have never failed, because I have cast myself upon the Lord. You know as a church that I have not scrupled to indulge large ideas of what we might do for God; and we have accomplished all that we purposed. I have sought God’s aid, and assistance, and help in all my manifold undertakings, and though I cannot tell here the story of my private life in God’s work, yet if it were written, it would be a standing proof that there is a God who answers prayer!”  

3.                   … and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known… Spurgeon’s  comments here are worth repeating. In fact, I will close with them.

“All believers see Christ, but all believers do not put their fingers into the prints of the nails, nor thrust their hand into His side. We have not the high privilege of John to lean upon Jesus’ bosom, nor of Paul to be caught up into the third heaven. In the ark of salvation, we find a lower, second, and third story; all are in the ark, but all are not on the same story. Most Christians, as to the river of experience, are only up to their ankles; some others have waded till the stream is up to their knees; a few find it chest high; and but a few—oh, how few!—find it a river to swim in, the bottom of which they cannot touch. My brethren, there are heights in experiential knowledge of the things of God which the eagle’s eyes of sharpness and philosophical thought have never seen;… God alone can bear us there; but the chariot in which He takes us up, and the fiery steeds with which that chariot is dragged, are prevailing PRAYERS. ….If you would reach to something higher than ordinary groveling experience, look to the Rock that is higher than you, and look with the eye of faith through the windows of persistent prayer. To grow in experience then, there must be much prayer. 

Dear friends, I pray you take this text—God Himself speaks it to you—“Call unto Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.” Take God at His Word. Get home, go into your chamber and shut the door, and try Him. Young man, I say, try the Lord! Young woman, prove Him—see whether He is true or not! If God is true, you cannot seek mercy at His hands through Jesus Christ, and get a negative reply. He must—for His own promise and character bind him to open mercy’s gate to you who knock with all your heart! God help you, believing in Christ Jesus, to cry aloud unto God, and His answer of peace is already on the way to meet you! You shall hear Him say, “Your sins, which are many, are all forgiven.” The Lord bless you for His love’s sake. Amen.  

[1] The prison epistles—Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon—written by the apostle Paul during his incarceration in Rome.
[3] Spurgeon has actually very little to say about the context of  Jer 33:3. He  simply takes the text  and  turns it into a sermon on prayer, dividing  it  into three points : First, prayer commanded—“Call unto Me.” Secondly, an answer promised—“And I will answer you.” Thirdly, faith encouraged—“And show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.”